What are our competitors doing better than us?

A critical question for achieving – and maintaining – competitiveness today

So many businesses I talk to operate every day under a hopeful – and frequently incorrect – assumption that they are the equal or better of their competitors. Close examination and research sometimes proves them right – but more often proves them mistaken. Sometimes very mistaken.

Transient

Why? Perhaps it’s because entrepreneurs, business leaders, and probably everyone in a position of authority wants to think they are up-to-date, on the ball, and the equal or better of others.

But is it actually true of your business or organization – year in and year out? How can you know? Here are a few simple questions to ask about your business – if you really want to know.

1. Look at your hours of operation. How many hours a week is your business able to receive inquiries, orders, and provide service? How does it compare to each of your competitors? Are you closing just as your prospects arrive home from work and might call? Are your 9-5 hours better suited to the unemployed than to today’s busy families?

One company we know shuts down their phone center at 5pm – even during key periods when tens of thousands of mailings are going out asking people to call when they get home from work. Failing to answer those evening calls during peak periods is likely costing them at least a million dollars in new business – several times a year. Ouch.

2. Look at how many different ways people can do business with you. Are they pretty much the same ways as 10 or 20 years ago – or are you adding new ones every few years? Customers have favorite ways of buying. Are you making them adapt to your system? Are you studying new ways to connect with them – such as social media, online purchasing and payments, email, blogs, and database-driven marketing – all easy and inexpensive today?

Am I forced to talk to a salesperson at your company when I just want some initial information, or to make a quick purchase? I don’t want the hassle or to wait on the phone in the first place. Give me the choice of ordering on the internet – or I’ll go elsewhere.

3. How are your offerings changing to adapt to changing customer needs? Are you innovating and experimenting? Are you introducing new products or services regularly?

One financial institution I know offers me a new service or product every month, while another one can’t think of anything new I might need. Who’s going to get my business? Even if I don’t actually buy each new product that the first bank offers, they have certainly created a stronger impression that innovation and new thinking are a priority for them – and that they might be far more open to new and better ways of doing business for me – and with me.

4. Are you watching trends and patterns in your industry and marketplace to find new opportunities that others have spotted and profited from? Are you thinking about how to incorporate these trends and patterns into how you serve customers?

Estimates say the 90% of the innovations in business today aren’t new ideas, they are adaptations of knowledge and technology from one area into another one. One example: the electronic tags that Wal-Mart puts on every item to track it from the manufacturer to the shopping cart are now being injected into beef cattle to track them from birth to the butcher. New technology – or just a new application?

While it’s natural to think you equal your competitors, it’s more important to actually know where you stand. So, do the harder thing and make the commitment to pay a lot more attention to your competition, your customers, and to what’s happening in the world today. Those are exactly the commitments that leading companies make every day.

Re-posted from our archives